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Higher serological responses and increased vaccine effectiveness demonstrate the value of extended vaccine schedules in combatting COVID-19 in England

By Gayatri Amirthalingam, Jamie Lopez-Bernal, Nick J Andrews, Heather Whitaker, Charlotte Gower, Julia Stowe, Elise Tessier, Sathyavani Subbarao, Georgina Ireland, Frances Baawuah, Ezra Linley, Lenesha Warrener, Michelle O'Brien, Corinne Whillock, Paul Moss, Shamez Ladhani, Kevin Brown, Mary E Ramsay

Posted 28 Jul 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.26.21261140

Introduction In January 2021, the UK decided to prioritise the delivery of the first dose of BNT162b2 (Pfizer/BioNTech) and AZD1222 (AstraZeneca) vaccines by extending the interval until the second dose up to 12 weeks. Methods Serological responses were compared after BNT162b2 and AZD1222 vaccination with varying intervals in uninfected and previously-infected adults aged 50-89 years. These findings are evaluated against real-world national vaccine effectiveness (VE) estimates against COVID-19 in England. Results We recruited 750 participants aged 50-89 years, including 126 (16.8%) with evidence of previous infection; 421 received BNT162b2 and 329 and AZD1222. For both vaccines, over 95% had seroconverted 35-55 days after dose one, and 100% seroconverted 7+ days after dose 2. Following a 65-84 day interval between two doses, geometric mean titres (GMTs) at 14-34 days were 6-fold higher for BNT162b2 (6703; 95%CI, 5887-7633) than AZD1222 (1093; 806-1483), which in turn were higher than those receiving BNT162b2 19-29 days apart (694; 540 - 893). For both vaccines, VE was higher across all age-groups from 14 days after dose two compared to one dose, but the magnitude varied with interval between doses. Higher two-dose VE was observed with >6 week intervals between BNT162b2 doses compared to the authorised 3-week schedule, including [≥]80 year-olds. Conclusion Our findings support the UK approach of prioritising the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines, with evidence of higher protection following extended schedules. Given global vaccine constraints, these results are relevant to policymakers, especially with highly transmissible variants and rising incidence in many countries.

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